Dev Patel’s career is poised to enter a new stage this spring, thanks first to his role in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel alongside a renowned British cast (opening May 4) and then to Aaron Sorkin’s buzzed about new HBO series, The Newsroom (debuting June 24). Of course, you already know Patel from his first movie: Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars in 2008, including Best Picture. The actor returns to India for Marigold Hotel, the sweet, soulful story of a group of British retirees who move to what they believe is a luxury retirement property in Mumbai (but is actually a shabby-chic hotel owned by Patel’s character, Sonny). Culture shock ensues as the Brits ultimately embrace Indian culture and the film, a wonderful exploration of adapting to change at any age, starring Academy Award winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, as well as Bill Nighy and Tom Wikinson, has already been a huge hit in the UK. So we spoke to Patel, who’s currently in LA working with Sorkin, about what comes next.
Provenance: Los Angeles & London
Relationship Status: In a relationship (with Millionaire co-star Freida Pinto).
Biggest misconception: that Patel was discovered in Mumbai. Actually, he was born in London and grew up in a traditional Hindu home, won best actor for his school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and was discovered by Millionaire director Danny Boyle’s daughter on Skins. In real life, Patel speaks with an English accent not unlike Prince William’s.
On outsourcing retirement: “The reason I really wanted to do the movie was because my mother works in a daycare center for the elderly; she’s been doing it almost 20 years. Growing up and visiting her when she working, I realized that what the main thing older citizens want is company, someone to share a game of chess with. Yet we’re writing these people in our society off as redundant or fossils. It’s really sad because they have so much experience and wisdom and I always enjoyed myself spending time with them.”
A passage to India: “The movie is about experiencing new things; in this case, immersing themselves in this crazy, weird, alien land, which is India. They were up for anything: mentally they had a very youthful attitude. India can be terrifying; the first time I went there to do a movie, I was engulfed by kids, the heat mixed with the smells and tons of people can be overwhelming.”
Team all-stars: “Judi and Bill were so fun to work with, the energy on the set was so fantastic because everyone was so open and giving. Everyone said ‘you must have learned so much,’ but it wasn’t anything so in-your-face as all that; they were all so respectful. Literally just watching them I learned so much. Just standing in a scene I get so immersed in how natural and charismatic they were. Most of them had worked together before so it was like they were coming together as one big family again.”
On his relationship with Pinto going public: “It’s a funny story, I was doing a movie in Philadelphia [The Last Airbender] and she was doing a film in Israel [Miral]. I called my Mom and was like, ‘next week’s going to be a really tough week, I’ve got big scenes so I’m not going to be able to talk to you.’ I’m like 17 or 18 so my mother is calling me everyday. I’m in America and she’s worried about what I’m eating and all that kind of stuff. I requested the whole production—which I’d never done before—to allow me to fly to Tel Aviv because [Freida] had a week off. And I flew out there, all dressed up to the nines, and met her. It was amazing; we got to spend time together. Then there was paparazzi at this restaurant. The next day, I got a call from my mother, asking me how work is, with this tone in her voice. Caught red-handed.”
Is marriage in the cards? “I haven’t a clue; I just turned 22 so I’m a long way off there.”
Working with Aaron Sorkin: “I don’t know how he does it. His scripts—every week and a half he produces this work of art. His work is a challenge and demands a lot. It’s just a beautiful feeling to have someone that respected entrust you with his work. It’s going to be a really strong show. I’m on the news team and write Jeff Daniels’ blog. It’s a kind of high-tension, chaotic, fast-paced environment as they broadcast news to the world and shape public perception.”